Advocates Ideabook

Empathy Machines

Law - legal concept - empathy machine

What if we had more legal services that provided people in crisis with empathy? It might be in the form of someone to listen to their story and engage them in conversation. It might be a computer algorithm that gives a sense of conversation and attention. It might be with small interventions in the typical court, legal aid, or lawyer processes that make people feel more ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’.

Ideabook Procedural Guide

One-Page Self-Help worksheets

I have been sketching out some possible templates for what a good one-pager worksheet would be, to guide a lay person through a legal process. The he one-pager has limits, so instead of thinking about it as a total ‘process guide’, I’m thinking of it more as an ‘orientation tool’ that gives the person their bearings in a legal area, with some key terminology, major red flags and warnings, and an overview of what to be doing.

As for composition, my thoughts have been to prioritize white space (not try to cram information on), use icons & faces as accents & markers on the page, and show priority through font size & spaces.

The header is also key — I’m thinking that along with the title of the procedure, the header can also give a ranking about how difficult the procedure will be. This could be a way to encourage the user not to do too much on their own, and seek out expert help while going through it.



Ideabook Training and Info

Can we use games for legal engagement? from Stephanie Kimbro

Margaret Hagan - games for online engagement - Steph Kimbro
A sketchnote of the start of a talk from Stephanie Kimbro, speaking at Univ. of South Carolina Law School about her research on how games & gamification mechanics and motivators could be used to improve the delivery of legal services.s


What’s going wrong with the Access to Justice movement?

At the end of November 2014, I published a short survey on this site, asking respondents to weigh in on the ‘Access to Justice movement’ (if we can speak of one at all, as if it were a cohesive thing). I’ve published some of their responses in an earlier post, and here is another visual of responses — this time on the topic of what’s going wrong with Access to Justice work.

Respondents are discussing mostly the US & Canadian contexts. I’ve pulled out some of the themes that emerged from the quotes.

Access to Justice - What's going wrong with the legal services movement

To repeat these themes here, as pain points for future design & development work to focus on:

  1. Regulation chills experimentation & new efforts.
  2. A lack of scaling of good solutions — and a lack of central leadership to push & spread good ideas, practices, tech.
  3. Mis-framing of what the targets for work should be — aiming either too blue-sky (not viable or feasible) or too small-scale (looking at band-aid solutions rather than true resolutions)
  4. Lack of user-centered projects. The people creating and implementing new ideas for access are not tied into the end-users (the lay people who need more access). The stakeholders who are involved in what new projects are piloted & supported are motivated so much by self-interest that they aren’t delivering the right kind of solutions.
  5. Lack of public engagement. The end-users aren’t involved in the movement (or even very aware of it).

This shortlist can be used in future design workshops & hackathons — a hitlist for us to target as we work to make a proper, robust, impactful Access to Justice movement.

Advocates Current Projects

Apps to Manage Lawyers

Open Law Lab - viewabill - app to manage lawyer

Here’s an article by Jennifer Smith in the Wall Street Journal on new crops of apps that help clients find and monitor lawyers.  It mentions Viewabill (tracking how much their lawyers are charging them, in real-time); Rocket Lawyer’s mobile app (create basic legal documents and buy plans for low-cost access to advice); Attorney Proz (lists area lawyers, who have paid to be listed); Ask a Lawyer (ask lawyers in Kalamzoo about basic legal questions and get free answers to your e-mail); and soon to be a LegalZoom app.

Now that people use apps to bank, order food and even monitor eBay auction bids, it was only a matter of time before they called in the lawyers.

Appearing in app stores are programs to help people keep track of their attorneys’ bills, draft legal documents and locate nearby lawyers.

Attorneys are doing more work on smartphones and tablets, and they have a whole host of apps at their disposal to help look up case law, track client calls and even assist with depositions and jury selection.

But until recently, few options existed for clients who wished to track cases or seek advice using mobile devices. This new crop of apps aims to add transparency, and a measure of convenience, to the process.

One new app, Viewabill, lets people track how much their lawyers are charging them in real-time. The idea is to head off sticker shock when business owners and company lawyers open up their monthly bills.

The app acts as kind of a client nanny-cam. It captures information as law firms enter it into their billing systems and transmits it to clients’ mobiles and desktops. Users select how often they want to get updates, set alerts pegged to certain dollar thresholds and can mark questionable items. The app can also be used to track hours logged by accountants and other professional service providers.

The app is now being used by a handful of companies and law firms on a beta basis, with a wider launch planned this month, said Florida-based entrepreneur David Schottenstein, who co-founded the enterprise with an attorney friend, Robbie Friedman. Firms would pay an annual cost of $25 to $40 per matter, depending on volume, or $25,000 for unlimited use, said Mr. Schottenstein.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 1.00.56 PM

“It helps them to understand what we do,” said Brian Baker, a bankruptcy lawyer at Ravin Greenberg LLC in New Jersey, which has been testing the app.

Errol Feldman, general counsel for JPay Inc., a Florida company that provides payment transfers and other services to inmates at corrections facilities, has been using Viewabill to make sure firms working to resolve contract disputes do so in a timely fashion.

Legal consultant Susan Hackett said the app was the latest example of a push for greater communication between lawyers and clients, who increasingly want more involvement in the work they assign to outside law firms.

Some companies with big in-house legal departments have already invested in software programs that let clients track the progress of legal matters or monitor law firm bills from their desktop computers. Such systems don’t come cheap, and not many clients use them yet—fewer than 20% of general counsel, according to a 2011 poll by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Not all law firms may welcome the additional element of client control on the legal side of things. For Viewabill to work, for instance, lawyers have to enter their hours in a timely fashion.

“These technologies may scare people,” Ms. Hackett said. “But they are all productive parts of the march towards clients and lawyers having conversations in real time.”

This month online legal services company Rocket Lawyer Inc. is debuting a mobile app tailored to its customer base: consumers and small business owners who log on to the site to create basic legal documents or buy plans that provide low-cost access to legal advice.

Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer’s founder and executive chairman, said more site traffic is coming from tablets and smartphones these days, reflecting his customers’ increasingly mobile bent. Many are small business owners who spend much of their time on the road, he said.

“Their office is their dashboard, so we have to deliver the tools,” Mr. Moore said.

Customers can use the app to create a non-disclosure agreement (more forms will soon be available) or modify existing documents they have already created. The app itself is free, and users can access some functions gratis.

Users can also locate nearby attorneys from Rocket Lawyer’s network—the app is integrated with Google GOOG +0.53% Maps—and punch in basic legal questions, although the reply, which is supposed to arrive within one business day, may not be swift as some might hope.

A handful of other apps offer similar services. Attorney Proz also lists area lawyers, who pay to be included. Ask a Lawyer, an app linked to Kalamazoo, Mich., law firm Willis Law, also offers free answers to basic legal questions, with replies sent to users’ email addresses.

Not to be outdone, online legal services company Inc., a Rocket Lawyer competitor, also has an app in the works, a company spokeswoman said.

A version of this article appeared March 11, 2013, on page B5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Apps Help Find Lawyers, And Keep an Eye on Them.